Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail declared Tuesday that Maldives will market new islands for tourist resort development over the next month.
Speaking at the parliamentary committee formed to review the proposed State Budget 2021, Fayyaz disclosed that the Ministry of Tourism will put up the islands for bid next month.
According to the minister, the government had been planning to put 20 islands on the market prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To my knowledge, the tourism ministry will tender some of those islands as well over the upcoming month", he said.
Fayyaz further stated that there was optimism for better results should the government begin tendering islands under the present circumstances.
He added that the islands will be put up for bid in stages, with the authorities to proceed based on how the first batch fares.
During the sit-down, parliamentary representative for Hithadhoo South constituency and member of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Ibrahim Nazil noted that several islands that were leased in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) graft scandal remain undeveloped, and inquired as to why the government has not seized the islands and put them back on the market.
However, the economic minister did not give a clear answer.
The MMPRC scandal is the largest corruption case recorded in the history of Maldives, which saw the embezzlement of a staggering MVR 4 billion in state funds acquired through the leasing of islands and lagoons for tourism development.
Investigations into the MMPRC scandal revealed that some islands were leased to more than one entity.
The tourism ministry earlier stated that the islands in the MMPRC case could only be seized by the state after relevant legal procedures have been completed.
Meanwhile, the restrictions on international travel over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left Maldives' heavily tourism reliant economy in an extremely vulnerable state. In mid-April, the World Bank projected that Maldives would be the worst-hit economy in the South Asian region due to the pandemic.
Maldives reopened its borders to international passengers on July 15, after nearly four months since the state halted issuing on-arrival visas on March 27. Guesthouses were permitted to resume operations and kick start local tourism on October 15.
Despite the lifting of restrictions, Maldives has noted a significant reduction in tourist arrivals compared to pre-COVID figures. While a total of 382,760 tourists were recorded before borders were closed in March, the latest figures by the Ministry of Tourism show that only 37,468 tourists arrived in Maldives between July 15 and October 28.
However, the Minister of Tourism earlier expressed hopes for the industry's recovery, estimating that 100,000 tourists would visit Maldives before the end of 2020. The tourism ministry expects a total of 500,000 arrivals for the year.